18 July 2019
Many young mainlanders feel left out in China's rapid economic growth. They feel "qiou". Photo: Bloomberg
Many young mainlanders feel left out in China's rapid economic growth. They feel "qiou". Photo: Bloomberg

And the Chinese Character of the Year award goes to…

Nothing is worse than being poor. And it is doubly unfortunate if you are poor and ugly.

Lest I be accused of being offensive and discriminatory, let me hasten to explain that I am simply relating what mainland website What’s on Weibo considers as probably the most popular new Chinese character this year: “qiou”.

It combines the upper part of the Chinese character for  “poor” – 穷 (qiong) – and the lower part of the character for “ugly” – 丑 (chou). Inside the stroke for ugly lies the word “tu”, which means soil or dust.

As such, the word means dirt-poor and ugly.

The word has been popularized by young Chinese netizens who use it to describe their current situation in a self-mocking way.

Q: How are you?

A: Oh, I’m so qiou!

Not so much unlike their Hong Kong cousins, many young mainlanders feel left out in their nation’s rapid economic growth.

They are forced to join the maddening rat race, put on the trappings of modernity and wealth, but no matter how they try, their wages fail to catch up with soaring prices, their search for satisfaction and fulfillment often end in exhaustion and emptiness. Qiou.

China’s trade war with the United States has only made the situation worse. Some Chinese are starting to realize that the nation’s achievements in innovation and technology are seen by the outside world as intellectual property theft.

This brings us to another coined word: “duang“, which is in reference to a television commercial for Bawang Shampoo featuring movie star Jackie Chan, which shows his hair becoming instantly black, smooth and shiny. 

The word has no clear meaning; it’s more of the mocking sound that it produces, which alludes to an old scandal in which Bawang was accused of adding harmful chemicals to its hair products.

Not all coined words are negative. The Hong Kong expression “add oil”, widely used in sporting events as a way of offering support and encouragement to the Chinese team, has made it to the Oxford English dictionary.

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EJ Insight writer

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